Fitness and Game Control

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA (May 2013)


Physical fitness is a quality stressed in soccer referee development. A complete discussion would probably include such aspects as: developing a training plan, conditioning, maintenance, life-style, and a number of other components. In this short discussion I want to only address a few thoughts I have about the effect of physical fitness on game control by the soccer referee.

Professional Responsibility

Referees are expected to perform fitness-wise on a par with the student-athletes whose games they officiate. This is because of the need to keep up with the play and participants at all times in order to be able to effectively oversee the game and participant behavior at all times.

Soccer referees are trained and certified as professionals by a national professional development association (NISOA). That designation is accompanied by a responsibility to act in a professional manner that includes being physically fit to perform all duties as specified in the rules.

The referee responsibility is to achieve a level of physical fitness that equals the needs of the competitive soccer games being officiated. The most effective referee is a physically fit referee who develops and maintains a fitness level appropriate to the competitive level of the games being refereed.

Needs and Benefits of Being Fit

NEED: Get and remain close enough to play to observe accurately whether each player acts with fairness.

COMMENT: With players continually on the move within all parts of the field of play at any given time, the referee needs a fitness level that will allow keeping close enough to key spots while also in the best possible position to see all player actions well enough to assure that rules are not violated.

NEED: Be able physically to react to rapid changes in play and tactics to continue to observe and react to game events.

COMMENT: The game and movement of players continually flow and change from moment to moment. In competitive play the changes usually occur rapidly. During the game the referee continually sees that the direction of play keeps changing, and the need is to be able to rapidly change attention and movement to the flow of play and to get into the most advantageous positions to oversee play and behavior.

NEED: Be close enough to players to be able to intercede with presence and corrective actions on a timely and effective basis.

COMMENT: It is most important for the referee to get to the site of a foul, possible injury, or to a possible player-to-player confrontation as quickly as possibly. The most effective way to quiet a confrontation is to be there and see that the players involved and any possible misconduct situation are handled quickly and the game restarted as quickly as possible.

NEED: Be able to cover enough ground in a timely manner when participant misbehavior or rules violations occur at some distance during play and referee presence at the site is needed for control.

COMMENT: There are times that the referee will be quite a running distance from a possible misconduct. This happens to us all at one time or another. A fitness level that allows an immediate sprint at full speed to get to a trouble spot (even when an incident occurs near the end of a physically demanding game) will determine whether behavior control is maintained or lost.

NEED: Coverage of ground and sites of play should at all times demonstrate to players that the referee is always close enough to get unfair tactics or behavior under quick control.

COMMENT: Getting to an incident of unfair play should always be a first priority. Your presence and ability to get there are keys to successful behavior control. If you cannot get there in time to forestall additional misconduct, control will suffer. To make your presence work to your advantage, you must be match-fit.

NEED: Anticipate and be able to move regularly to oversee open space where play is likely to develop.

COMMENT: Not all referees understand the need to identify and move towards open space where possible unfair play might occur. A team attack on an opponent’s goal ordinarily involves passing into open space to advance the attack. The faster the referee is able to anticipate, and the quicker to get near to and oversee such space, helps referee game control. However, it also requires a good level of fitness throughout the entire game.


A good fitness level is recognized as needed for effective soccer refereeing. The needs and benefits suggested above are meant to stimulate awareness of how individual referee success is helped through achieving a good fitness level. You should want to determine if your present fitness level is gaining you the type of effective soccer refereeing that you have set as a personal goal.